The Historically Racist Past of Premature Births

Premature birth, classified as a baby born before thirty-seven weeks gestation, is a surprisingly common issue faced by hundreds of thousands of women and children every year. Nearly one in every ten births in the United States is classified as a premature birth and this alarmingly high rate of prematurity is a leading cause of infant mortality. Furthermore, premature birth creates a plethora of long-term health issues for the children and increases the level of stress and financial burdens on families affected by it. 

Another alarming statistic connected to the rate of premature births in the United States is the racial disparity between ethnic groups affected by this issue. By 2019, the latest year for which figures are available, this gap in premature birth rates showed no signs of closing.  African American mothers face premature birth rates nearly 50% higher than mothers of caucasion or hispanic descent. Scientists and researchers have worked for decades to unearth the reasons behind this difference in prematurity.  Although they have a better understanding, no clear indication of why has yet been gleaned. 

Doctors continue to study premature birth and the risk factors that lead to it in order to reduce the rates of prematurity and the accompanying risk of infant mortality. Special attention is being paid to the struggle of African American mothers to not only reduce the higher rates found within this demographic, but reduce the overall rate of prematurity across the country.

One way in which researchers and medical professionals are working to rectify this issue is to gather information from the past to better understand underlying causes. As more information continues to come to light, the historical racist past of premature births shows a remarkable disparity between the demographics of the mothers struggling with the issue of prematurity. These striking details and alarming statistics continue to inspire medical professionals to better understand these issues so they might work toward closing the gap and improving the odds for mothers and their children. 

Race and Premature Births

Despite these striking differences between racial groups, it has been difficult to find a definitive cause for the gap as doctors continue to study the evidence to try and figure out the cause. Many factors play a role in premature birth.  Often specific issues are faced at higher rates by different ethnic groups. These issues are related to some of the reasons prematurity is seen more often in African American communities.

Socioeconomic and environmental factors play a huge role in premature birth rates.  Mothers of lower economic resources are adversely affected by prematurity. Lower economic resources result in a lack of access to good quality prenatal care and community support for expecting mothers. Further compounding this issue are the systemic economic disadvantages faced by the African American community. 

Lower economic status is one of the major factors in the racial disparity in gynecological care faced by mothers around the country. Lower quality prenatal and neonatal care has an adverse effect on gestational age as well as survival rates for premature babies.  A lack of economic resources is one of the leading causes of lower-quality care. African Americans struggle disproportionately with access to resources due to systemic racism.  This is one of the factors related to the higher rate of premature births in this demographic. 

Another issue tied to premature birth rates is a lack of access to education and resources to control pregnancy. Premature births are much higher in younger age groups.  Teen mothers are affected at much higher rates than those in their late 20s and 30s. Young maternal age is a leading cause of a multitude of serious health issues that can have long-term effects on health and quality of life for mother and child. 

Racial disparities in education have long been supported by physical evidence and research projects.  This gap has a trickle-down effect on teen pregnancy. A lack of resources within the African American demographic can be directly tied to an increase in young maternal age and multiple births, something that is also a leading cause of premature births among this group. Not only does young maternal age put mothers at a higher risk of premature birth, but this can also lead to serious medical complications further down the road. 

Teen pregnancy and young motherhood can also cause serious issues such as hypertension, malnutrition, mental health struggles, and other complicated health issues such as vaginal prolapse. The latter is often something that requires treatment via surgical means, and is often an invasive procedure that can have long-term effects on the wellbeing of the mother. Teen pregnancy, an issue long faced by the African American community at much higher rates than in other ethnic groups, not only results in premature birth but also health complications for the babies born to these mothers.

Another issue believed to cause the higher rates of premature births in African American communities is the stress caused by systemic racism. Stress is one of the major environmental contributors to prematurity.  The lifelong stress of dealing with injustice and racism is a stressor faced by African Americans more so than any other minority group. The lengthy history of racism in the United States can often be directly tied to the past of premature births and the overall racial disparity in gynecological care available to these women. 

Premature births are a complicated issue faced by thousands of mothers across the country every year.  Initiatives to reduce the overall rate of prematurity in America continue to work toward lowering this rate. Due to the obviously higher rates of prematurity in the African American community, special effort is being given toward supporting mothers and infants to reduce the rates of premature birth and help support those affected by it. 

The work of these doctors and researchers will hopefully improve the statistics, ensuring that the mothers and infants of African American communities receive the care, support, and resources they need. The goal is to eliminate struggles and achieve equal opportunity and liberty for all, moving away from the historically racist past of premature births in America.

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